Most homeowners would rather not think about their roofs. They’re expensive to install and expensive to replace and, thanks to the high-stakes job they have of sheltering all your earthly belongings, it’s stressful when anything goes wrong. But thinking about, inspecting and maintaining your roof can go a long way toward extending its life.
Bottom Line Personal talked to home-improvement expert Danny Lipford about how to make your roof last as long as possible…
Know what you’ve got. Each type of roof comes with different drawbacks, advantages and considerations when it comes to longevity.
Asphalt shingles. Despite several new technological developments in roofing materials, the good old three-tab asphalt shingle remains king—and with good reason. Asphalt is familiar to most roofers and homeowners, and it is easy to work with. It’s relatively lightweight, easy to cut and the least expensive option on the market. And with proper care, it can last 20 years.
New option: In recent years, architectural asphalt shingles, which are thicker and shaped differently, have become popular. They’re significantly more expensive than three-tab but last up to 50 years and can withstand winds in excess of 120 mph.
Metal sheets. Years ago, it was rare to see a home with a metal roof in many parts of the country, and they were banned by many homeowner’s associations for aesthetic reasons. But in recent years, they’ve had a heyday, thanks in part to new colors and designs. The coated metal is rust-resistant and noncombustible, perfect for fire-prone areas. In fact, in wildfire country, insurance companies often offer discounts for metal roofing. And you can expect to get 40 to 50 years from a metal roof.
Other options: Occasionally, you’ll see clay tiles, slate shingles or wooden shakes on a roof. Clay and slate can last a whopping 60 to 150 years but come with prohibitive drawbacks, notably outlandish cost and such excessive weight that the structure of some roofs must be modified to accommodate them. In the case of wooden shakes, fire hazard is the greatest disadvantage. If you like the aesthetics of these other styles, manufacturers are producing cheaper, lighter and safer synthetic versions that look great but still come nowhere close to the lifespan of real clay or slate. There also are solar shingles, which are installed similarly to traditional roof shingles but look and function like small solar panels and can power your home while protecting it. While a great idea on paper, they have not caught on.
Choosing the right roof. Find out what roofing styles are allowed in your neighborhood, and look over the aesthetic options within each style. Also consider what kind of climate you live in. If you get a lot of snow and ice, you might consider a metal roof, which is ideal for shedding wintry precipitation. If you live in a hurricane-prone area, pay close attention to wind tolerances of the materials, and consider fortifying your roof (more on that below).
Get bids from roofers on the types of material you’re considering, including the particular styles or designs within each category. The best resource for any homeowner is to check with the local home builders association for recommendations and/or call local roofing-materials suppliers. Be sure the estimates include total costs. The balancing act here is between attractiveness, affordability and durability. Of course, there will be trade-offs. A longer-lasting roof costs more upfront but could last for 50 years.
Important: Discuss the roof options with your insurance company. Ask what, if any, discounts on your premiums will come with the various options, and factor them into your long-term cost.
Maintaining your roof. If it’s safe to do so, get up on your roof twice a year with a leaf blower to blast away any debris. Leaves and other matter resting in valleys or low spots will quickly deteriorate a roof. Also keep your gutters clear to avoid debris backing up beneath your shingles.
Inspect your roof, looking for raised shingles or fasteners that have backed out due to temperature changes (on an asphalt roof, that means nails poking up through the shingles). At the first sign of trouble, get up there and remedy the problem, layering a little roof-repair mastic over any nails that you’ve had to drive back in. This is an easy do-it-yourself job, provided it’s safe for you to be up there—if not, call a pro.
Also, after heavy rain events, get up in your attic with a flashlight to search for leaks.
Caution: Most homeowners should not attempt repairs around flashing and chimneys. If you see trouble in one of those spots, call in a roofer.
Signs you need a new roof. When you buy a house, pay attention to the age of the roof and assume that you’ll need to replace it according to the lifespan estimated by the manufacturer.
Asphalt shingles will begin to curl when the roof is reaching the end of its days. Another telltale sign is when shingles begin to shed the granules that give them texture. You’ll often find the granules on the sidewalk below or in the gutters. If heavy winds are making your brittle shingles flap up, it’s time.
As a metal roof ages, more of its fasteners will back out and flashing may become loose. The metal will appear rusted and deteriorated.
Obviously, whether your roof is metal or asphalt, water stains on your ceilings are a sign that your roof’s days may be numbered.
Fortifying your roof. In recent years, insurance companies have begun offering considerable incentives—up to $10,000 per roof—to have your roof built or replaced according to a set of standards that make it nearly impervious to storms. Roofers working according to those data-driven standards established by the Insurance Institute for Business & Home Safety (IBHS) use more nails (in a prescribed nailing pattern) to fasten the plywood to the rafters…and special membrane tape to seal every seam…apply a peel-and-stick snow and ice shield to the decking…fasten the shingles according to strict manufacturers’ guidelines…and nail the metal along the eaves strip at every four inches. This must all be documented and submitted to IBHS for you to receive certification that your roof is “Fortified” and collect any incentive.
To find out whether you’re eligible for incentives where you live: Visit FortifiedHome.org. Even if you aren’t in a qualifying region, you might consider taking on the added cost, since it will give you peace of mind and likely increase the resale value of your home.